More than 5,000 people gathered in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim neighborhood for a moving ceremony marking the conclusion of the first 30 days since the burial of the victims pulled from Mumbai, India’s central Chabad-Lubavitch center, including its directors, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg.

Simply called by the Hebrew word for “30,” the shloshim concludes an intense month of mourning for family members. As at more intimate gatherings, where people traditionally recite Psalms and share words of comfort, the Jerusalem event featured addresses of consolation delivered by some of the leading Torah scholars of the modern age. Attendees included the Rebbes of several Chasidic groups, including those of Ger, Toldos Avraham Yitzchok, Toldos Aharon, Boyan, Alexander, Sadigura and Pinsk-Karlin.

The ceremony coincided with the completion of several cooperative efforts, including by Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries across the globe, to study the entire Talmud in memory of the deceased. It was followed the next morning by the unveiling of a memorial at the Holtzbergs’ resting place on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. An additional ceremony was scheduled to take place later Thursday afternoon in Afula, the hometown of Rivka Holtzberg’s parents, Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg.

Despite steady rainfall, the crowd at Shabbat Square stood for three hours as prominent rabbis spoke about the good deeds of those who were murdered, and what people could do to keep their memory alive. The Nickelsburger Rebbe, one of the first to speak, urged everyone to continue to do good deeds and learn Torah in honor of those who were killed.

After he spoke, the young children of Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitlebaum and Rabbi Bentzion Kruman, standing only waist high to the rabbis and family members forming a protective half circle around them, prayed the mourner’s Kaddish.

Rabbi Shmuel Vosner of B’nei Brak, one of Israel’s leading halachic authorities and a close friend of the Teitlebaum family, spoke to the gathering by telephone.

“The world stands on three things: prayer, Torah study, and good deeds,” he began, quoting a dictum recorded in Pirket Avot. “Yet, these martyrs were engaged in all three things that night.

“How do we understand what has happened?” he continued. “What do we say to children who are asking, ‘Where is abba? Everyday, they ask for their fathers. Only G‑d has the answers to their questions.”

Referencing directives from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Vosner turned to the general state of the world today and in the Holy Land, in particular. He beseeched the crowd to increase in their observance of the Torah, and to encourage others to do the same.

“We need the prayers of little children,” he stated. “We need them to pray, and hasten a positive resolution to all of these problems.”

Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg, father of slain Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, speaks to a reporter at memorial ceremony in Jerusalem for his son, daughter-in-law and four other victims. (Photo: Pini Rosen)
Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg, father of slain Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, speaks to a reporter at memorial ceremony in Jerusalem for his son, daughter-in-law and four other victims. (Photo: Pini Rosen)

A Light That Spread

In his remarks, Rabbi Leibel Groner, who served as a member of the Rebbe’s secretariat, borrowed imagery from the recently concluded holiday of Chanukah and compared the martyrs to the candles of the menorah. Unlike Shabbat candles, which are lit before sunset, Chanukah candles are lit after night has begun its descent, he said. Chanukah candles are meant to light up the darkness, in the public arena, a task the victims devoted every fiber of their being to accomplishing.

For instance, the Holtzbergs – who ran the Mumbai Chabad House for five-and-a-half years – helped thousands of souls, said Groner in Yiddish, from businesspeople to recovering drug addicts to those caught up in cults. Travelers who were lost, or out of money, knew where to turn, and those who simply wanted a safe, relaxing place to stay and eat a kosher meal found it at the Chabad House.

The couple, asserted Groner, who flew in from New York for the occasion, ignited a flame in each and every person they encountered. He concluded by noting that this year is a year of hakhel, a once-in-seven-years occurrence that the Rebbe emphasized in his teachings should be characterized by an outpouring of unity among Jews the world over.

“May the merit of the unity shown here tonight, and the unity shown since the passing of Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg,” said Groner, “bring blessings to all of the Jewish People.”